Sunday, 30 March 2008

Establishing a National Forum on Europe in Scotland?

One of the things that I want to see established in Scotland is a National Forum on Europe. The events of the past couple of years as EU leaders have moved from campaigning for a fully-fledged EU Constitution to agreeing an "allegedly" different European Treaty (Lisbon Treaty), has shown yet again that the EU has become ever more distant from the people whose interests it purports to represent.

This distance itself is a problem - it creates a polemic (and political) space into which the Euro-extremists can move. We see this in Scotland where the EU debate has become polarised around the pro- and anti-camps to an unhealthy and totally unhelpful degree. The casualties in this are the voters of Scotland who are confronted with half-truths, spin and sometimes downright lies as each of these camps seeks to out-alarm and out appease the voters in equally unhelpful measure. And of course the advocates in both camps are undoubtedly helped by the obscure if not opaque language in which EU business often is conducted.

That is why I successfully moved a motion on behalf of the Brussels branch at the SNP’s annual conference last October in Aviemore to establish a National Forum on Europe in Scotland to provide a focus for a new and informed debate over EU matters. That Forum would have three main roles:
1) promote informed, objective and non-partisan discussion on EU matters and encourage open and honest public debate on EU issues of central importance to Scotland’s future.
2) be a place for politicians – and more importantly – others in society with a central stake in EU developments to present their arguments and to hear the arguments of others. Indeed, there is no reason why guests from outside Scotland could not be involved in such debates, and bring to our national Forum the broader perspectives that are sometimes needed to fully appreciate EU activities.
3) be a Forum that will reclaim the ground from those presently agitating on EU matters but who do not necessarily have the best interests of the Scottish people at heart.

Establishing such a Forum is a key way to engage the people of Scotland in an ordered and orderly debate and dialogue about EU issues and policies as these are likely to affect Scotland.

Right now in Brussels discussions are ongoing about the future shape of the EU's regional, rural and agricultural policies as well as research and development after 2013, reforms to the common fisheries policy, future EU home affairs policy starting in 2010 not to mention new policies for maritime issues, energy and climate change. Each of these issues are deserving of a proper public debate and discussion so that the end result are policies that work better for Scotland and our interests.

We have examples in other countries to draw from when designing our Forum - Ireland being a particular case in point, where
a National Forum on Europe was set up in 2001 after the Treaty of Nice was rejected by the Irish voters in a referendum. This time round the Irish National Forum is playing a key role in informing the Irish public about the Lisbon Treaty in the run-up to Ireland's referendum on the Treaty in June 2008. Ireland remains the only EU Member State to put the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum since it is legally required to do so by its Constitution.

I believe establishing in Scotland a National Forum on Europe is an essential step in bringing EU issues closer to the people of Scotland and in doing so undermining the considerable power of vested interests whose main aim is to stifle genuine debate and instead pursue their own narrow political agendas to serve their own self interest. We need reasoned and informed debates on EU policies in Scotland, and a National Forum is one route to achieve this.

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